How to save money, time and your sanity when back-to-school shopping

Posted on August 9, 2018

The average family spends somewhere between $662 – $1,489 on back-to-school shopping and activity fees, and about 20percent of families spend more than $2,000 (USA Today).

While it’s certainly fine to spend any amount you’re comfortable with for your child’s supplies and clothes, many families have budget constraints to work within. I know my family does!

Here are a few tips I’ve found useful for saving money and time on back-to-school shopping.

Set your budget and determine what you need

I’m shopping for an upcoming 2nd-grade boy (Noah) and a pre-school boy (Spenser), so my process looks something like this:

  • Make a list of the different types of items each boy needs for the first half of the school year and how many of each item I think they need (socks, jeans, shirts, etc.).
  • Go through each boy’s closets and weed out anything that has too many holes or stains (because boys).
  • Move anything that doesn’t fit but is still in good shape from Noah’s closet to storage in Spenser’s closet, because they will be used as hand-me-downs. Place outgrown items from Spenser’s closet into a donate/yard-sale pile.

This will give me an idea of what each boy needs and help me determine a realistic budget. The process takes some time on the front end but will save time and money once I start shopping.

A great way to set your budget is to go back to the master list and write down an amount you want to spend for each type of item.

Click here to download a starter list.

Decide what you will buy new vs. used

Figuring out what I’ll buy new versus used also helps determine where to shop for different items and how much to budget for each. The largest single item on my kids’ clothing budget is typically shoes because I prefer to buy those new. The keys to saving on new items, of course, are finding a good sale, shopping around (online if possible, to save time), using a coupon, and being willing to compromise (maybe he could get the $20 Nikes from last season instead of the $40 Nikes from this season).

For most of my kids’ items, the thrift store and consignment sales are a great place to start. I also consider the quality of clothing and have a mental list of preferred brands (Old Navy, Gap and Children’s Place are good, especially for play clothes, and if I can find Mini Boden or Hanna Andersson at a good price, I will snag those, because they are great quality — and some of their pants have double-reinforced knees).

Make a shopping game plan

Here’s where all your prep work hopefully pays off. Once you know what you need, pick out where you’ll shop for it.

1.     Start by scoping out your local thrift store. Carry your list with you so you can stick to the script as far as needs and cost. Keep a running total of what you spend.

2.     Check online to see when your local consignment sales are being held. I know our local sale is near the beginning of September, which means I can stand to wait a few weeks after school actually starts to get some good deals.

3.     Finally, once you’ve exhausted thrift and consignment options, finish out your shopping (and purchase any new items) online or in retail stores.

Saving money doesn’t have to make you lose your sanity!

Organization is the key to staying on budget with your back-to-school shopping. It’s incredibly easy for the costs to add up quickly and for a quick trip to the mall to turn into a miserable all-day event. But if you’ll put a little time and effort into creating a list of your needs and putting a dollar amount with each of those items, you’ll save time, money and sanity.


Written by Misty Mathews